Wednesday, February 28, 2007

His heart will always be in Edmonton, but his skates, sticks and love of the game are heading to Long Island.

For Edmonton hockey fans, the sense of déjà vu (all over again as Yogi would have said) is all too familiar. Ryan Smyth was always a crowd favourite, the player they invested their faith in, the Alberta boy who grew up in Banff and dreamed of being an Oiler, he the one they lived and died with for a good number of seasons is packing a suitcase and most likely not coming home to play for the home team again.

The Ryan Smyth trade, the deadline buzzer shocker of yesterday’s trading festival is settling in to the Alberta capital, and the reaction is one of shock, resignation and a familiar feeling of here we go again.

This wasn’t supposed to be in the new NHL, in Edmonton they actually welcomed Gary Bettman’s new financial order, feeling that it was the only future for them, the only way that they had a chance to keep the Ryan Smyth’s of the world. In the end, management blinked, unwilling to come up with the gold coins required to keep the warrior king in Oiler Blue.

With Smyth’s departure so it seems will be the Oilers from this years playoff hunt, Tuesday nights’ game a mere afterthought for the Oilers after the shock of the trade of the popular Smyth settled in and the celebration of Mark Messier wrapped up on the ice. Once the banner was up, the speeches made and the puck was dropped the Oilers, much like their fans we suspect just wanted to go home. A not particularly good Phoenix team, stole two points from a totally disinterested Oiler squad.

While they were running up that Messier banner, they should have hoisted the white flag as well. Smyth single handedly kept them within skating distance of the eighth and final playoff spot this month. Without him, well no need to save up for playoff tickets Edmonton, unless of course you’re thinking of a trip east, maybe see how young Ryan fares under the tutelage of Ted Nolan.

An emotional Smyth bade his farewells to Edmonton on Wednesday, prior to heading for the airport and his trip to Long Island. Declaring that this was a day that he thought would never come, calling out the names of Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic as players who have never known another organization. Many will say that Smyth's was a name, that frankly should have been added to that very select list.

His chance to join their ranks was separated by a reported 200,000 dollar a year gap in the final negotiations. It’s said he wanted $5.6 mil a season, the Oilers felt that $5.4 was the bottom line. And so with that apparently insurmountable figure left on the table, Kevin Lowe made the call to Garth Snow, and sent a whole lot of talent, character and desire to rebounding Islander team.

Lowe will be under fire for this for a long time to come we suspect. While he got a free pass over the problems with Chris Pronger last summer, after all if the guy didn’t want to live in Edmonton and was adamant not to remain, how could Lowe win. But Smyth said he wanted to stay, he loved Edmonton, loved the Oilers and the fans responded each and every night.

Lowe negotiated a number of deals over the off season to shore up his squad, newcomers that sparkled during that playoff run last year, but have been less than accountable on the score sheet in this regular season. He let the Smyth negotiations drag on and on, first the Oilers didn’t want to negotiate; then it was rush, rush to get a deal done. In the end, the money spent in the off season on the acquired pieces took away from the money required to keep the main attraction.

It's a tough spot that Lowe found himself in, having to make that final call regarding a player perhaps more valuable than his monetary worth. Lowe is no doubt correct in having made a trade as things fell apart, the prospect of keeping Smyth and running the risk of letting him escape, without compensation through free agency was too high. But, by not securing the face of the franchise for all these years Lowe is risking a lot of good will from the fans. The ones who pay for those tickets, the ones who pay for the pay per view television packages. The ones who knew Smyth as the Oilers, they'll be hard to convince.

You can sell them on the merits of the youngsters coming to Edmonton, the potential of draft picks to come and maybe even the unspoken wink that maybe Ryan will sign again in Edmonton over the summer. Though one would suggest that with even modest success on Long Island, Smyth will be a hot pursuit in the off season and if they were afraid of the $200,000 difference, well let’s not bother with the rest of the accounting!

For them, Lowe should have gone the extra distance, signed Smyth and found a way to return his team to prominence.

The talk shows are full of rage, the newspapers spit black ink venom to fuel the disappointment. A day so dark, not seen since a fellow named Wayne moved to a place called Los Angeles.

The city that defines hockey at times with its love of the game and emotional attachment to the Oilers is feeling a little jilted today, jilted by their own management , much like their hockey hero who now will chase the Stanley Cup for another team that built a dynasty. Somehow you think that with the trade yesterday, the Islanders, if Smyth remains past this season, are now much closer to returning to the glory days than the Oilers are.

From the Newstands:

Edmonton Journal--No More 94
Edmonton Jounral--Unbelievable
Edmonton Journal--Sound Off!
EdmontonSun--Wayne knows
Edmonton Sun--What have they done
Sportsnet (Jim Kelley)--A business decision
TSN (Bob McKenzie)--Did the Oilers get enough?
Newsday Islander blog--Anatomy of a trade

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